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Ed Balls on immigration deserves to lose Left votes

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So Ed Balls has aligned himself with David Goodhart, Editor of Progress, who (as we previously discussed here) argues Labour must become the anti-immigration party. “Britain should not have rejected transitional controls on migration from the first wave of new EU member states,” he argues, and in the future we must keep in place temporary restrictions on migration from Romania and Bulgaria for longer than planned, impose similar restrictions for an extended period on Turkish workers in the event of Turkish accession and, most importantly, “revisit the Free Movement Directive.” We must do all this “to rebuild trust with the British people” and in order to be “honest about what we got wrong,” in other words for political rather than economic reasons.

Ed Balls actually presents much of the case against this himself in the same article:  firstly, “immigration has been a powerful driver of both economic growth and cultural diversity in our country.”  Secondly, in respect of revisiting the Free Movement Directive, “it is true that one million British people do migrate to work in the rest of Europe, they are more likely to be working for higher wages in Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan than undercutting unskilled wages in the poorer parts of Europe.”  Should we deny them that facility? In any case, as Owen Tudor, Head of the TUC’s European Union and International Relations Department, argues on the ToUChstone blog:

Free movement of goods and services – which the TUC certainly supports – without free movement of labour is a recipe for jobs flooding to where the labour is cheapest, reproducing the Wal-Martisation of the US. Instead, Governments should ensure that workers who migrate are treated the same as the workers in the country they migrate to, which over time raises the wage levels of the poorest countries in Europe rather than reducing them in the richest. And, similarly, the taxes generated by the new migrants should have been used to expand social housing and public services so that an increasing population did not compete for a shrinking housing stock or crowded public transport.

Owen Tudor also points to Balls’s chutzpah in claiming that “as the GMB’s Paul Kenny and others have pointed out, the failure of our government to get agreement to implement the agency workers directive made matters worse:”

It took years of campaigning by people like the GMB’s Paul Kenny to get the Government to stop resisting  tooth and claw that agency workers directive. What Paul Kenny and the rest of the trade union movement argued all along – for over a decade – was that, with labour market regulation like the agency workers directive and the posted workers directive, migration would not set worker against worker, allow employers to undercut existing terms and conditions (regardless of the nationality of the victims), or lead to a downward spiral of wages.

So let’s address immigration concerns by dealing with the real problem:  providing good protection for the pay and conditions of all workers, including young, temporary and agency workers, by ensuring a living wage for all workers, and by building a million council homes in the next parliament.

As for his patriotic cry – “I am British before I am European” – some of us are internationalists before we are anything.  It won’t get my vote.  He is making a play for the votes of Paul Kenny’s members, but on this showing does not deserve them.

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